Ken and Katerina Brexit – a tragic love story

Ken and Katerina Brexit had been together more than 45 years, having wed on 1st January 1973, but over recent years their relationship had become rather tumultuous and rocky.

Friends and family always thought it was a rather odd marriage in the first place. Ken Brexit, quintessentially British, happiest when at home watching TV and eating simple, British food – bangers and mash was his favourite – whereas Katerina Lautenschlager was always looking outwards and upwards, looking for new experiences and new horizons to explore. Katerina loved nothing more than to socialise, meet friends and to holiday on the continent where she truly felt at home. She loved to party, loved to meet new people, experience new cultures, try different foods – exotic, exciting foods like snails, frogs legs, calamari, paella – all things that quite frankly kept Ken awake at night, the stuff of nightmares.

And so when they tied the knot on Jan 1st 1973, there were a few raised eyebrows, but to their credit, Ken and Katerina were adamant they could make their marriage work, and work it did, for many years. For sure they argued, doesn’t everyone, but they found a way. Katerina admired and respected Ken’s traditional lifestyle, his love of home cooking, his yearning for routine and familiarity. Ken was Katerina’s anchor, always there for him, reliable and dependable, and in return Ken let Katerina do her own thing. She planned all their holidays to places like France, Spain, Italy, Greece and her homeland Germany, and Ken became a little more adventurous and definitely was a richer person as a result.

It was a relationship that worked and life was good, but then in 2016, this all started to change. After 43 years of marriage, Ken started to feel somewhat ill at ease, slightly unhappy in their relationship. He became rather mawkish over his bachelor days and he began to question whether his marriage was actually giving him all that he wanted from life. He started to become a little distant and somewhat awkward with Katerina, and so after some thinking, admittedly muddled thinking, and without much of a plan at all in fact, he sat Katerina down and reeled off a list of demands he wanted from their marriage going forward.

Basically he wanted more say and more control over matters. He wanted more holidays at home, on British shores, and whilst he was OK with a few foreign holidays, he insisted they be to British themed resorts where you could still get fish and chips and a decent pint. Of course Katerina rather baulked at this, but in the spirit of true partnership and compromise, she tried her best to accommodate at least some of his needs. She respected Ken’s desire to retain a strong sense of Britishness within his identity, but in return she wanted to also continue to enjoy her more cosmopolitan life too. She tried to meet him in the middle, but he flatly refused, and for more than a year they fought and bickered back and forth, trying hard to reach a compromise solution, but sadly it was all to no avail, and in the summer of that year – 23 June 2016 in fact – they formally agreed to separate.

When friends and family woke the following morning, no-one could believe the news. This came as a huge shock to everyone, a bolt from the blue. The very foundations of their long relationship had been torn asunder, and there was no going back. Ken was adamant this was what he wanted and there was nothing Katerina or anyone else could do or say (although everyone tried).

They agreed on an official divorce date – 29 March 2019 – and throughout the intervening two years as they approached D-day, they continued to live together whilst working out the details of their separation. But after more than 40 years where everything had been shared, this was proving very difficult indeed, and finances in particular became hugely contentious.

Katerina had always been the bread-winner, earning the big salary from her global marketing role which took her all over Europe. Ken, meanwhile, brought in a more modest but steady income from his civil service job in London. He’d been there forever, man and boy, his father worked there before him.

There were many details to be sorted, things they just hadn’t thought about. For example, Katerina had already booked their June 2019 summer cruise out of her salary, and as they would now have to cancel, she insisted Ken pay for his share. Ken refused.

And then there was the much thornier issue of the house and the mortgage which was in joint names. But again Ken refused to pay anything, for he had little money. He felt it was unfair that he should have to pay anything, after all he earned less, whereas Katerina earned shit loads.

‘But you have to pay your share, these are commitments you already made, and you want the divorce!’ Katerina kept insisting, but Ken steadfastly refused. Gradually things got worse, to the point where Ken was prepared to just walk away from the marriage, a ‘no-deal divorce’ as he coined it, thinking himself rather clever.

Nevertheless, in the end, he realised he was being unfair and with his back to the wall, even his friends were disagreeing with him, and with nothing else to negotiate, he finally agreed to pay all his outstanding financial debts.

‘Good’ Katerina said. ‘We’re making progress finally’.

But when Ken actually did the sums he realised his debts were rather large, much larger then he had expected. And when he looked at his income, he started to realise he had absolutely no way of paying these debts back. This was getting very messy, this wasn’t how it was meant to be.

Katerina insisted they only pragmatic thing to do was to sell their house. She would buy her own place out of her share of the proceeds, and suggested Ken do the same. But Ken couldn’t afford a house, not even a small one. In fact all he could afford was a rather small, damp looking bedsit on the high street, and so he came up with a cunning fallback plan – his plan B.

Ken suggested they continue to live in the same house, but sleep in separate rooms. And as Katerina earned the most, he said she should pay most of the bills because that was only fair. And as she was the better cook, it would be jolly decent of her if she continued to make Ken’s dinner each evening, but nothing too fancy and foreign, obviously.

Katerina listened to this and was gobsmacked, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

‘So let me get this right. You want a divorce, but you want us to continue living in the same house, under the same arrangements as we do currently, the only difference being that we sleep in different rooms, and I pay for everything?’ She added.

‘Yeah … and you cook tea as well’, he said. Katerina glowered at him. ‘And in return I’ll put the bins out on Monday morning’ he added, sheepishly.

‘You’re not taking this seriously Ken, you’re an idiot. You’re making this up as you go along. You have no plan at all. You want your independence yet you don’t want to leave, you want to do things your way yet you want me to do them for you, this is a fucking joke, you do realise that don’t you?’

‘Divorce, is Divorce’ he replied, crossing his arms crossly, wondering what the fuck that actually meant.

But Katerina had had enough. ‘Fine, if that’s how you want to play it.  But you need to know I have found someone else’

‘What?’ Ken said, looking rather wide-eyed and panicked.

‘I’ve found someone else. He’s called Luigi and it’s serious, he wants me to move in with him’

‘What the actual fuck?’ Ken stuttered.

‘Ken, this was your idea you insisted on the divorce! I have a life to live too you know. There are two sides to this and two sets of consequences’ she continued.

‘Are you and Luigi having sex?’

‘Oh grow up Ken. Anyway, haven’t you met anyone else yet?’ Katerina enquired.

‘No I bloody haven’t, believe me I’ve tried but I can’t find anyone. I did meet a girl at Tesco’s but she said I was too small-minded, what a cheek! It’s difficult, harder than I thought if I’m honest. Oh and I don’t want that bloody Luigi staying here!’

Katerina bit her tongue and remained calm. ‘OK so we have no choice. We will have to sell up and we will have to get our own places’, she insisted.

But this stark realisation panicked Ken. Suddenly reality smacked him across the face like a piece of his most favourite wet Grimsby cod …

‘But … I can’t afford my own place! … Oh Katerina what have we done’ he said forlornly. ‘I will miss you so much … I think … I love you Katerina … please don’t do this .. can’t we try and talk this through? Let’s not be too hasty, what do you say we give it another try?’ Ken was now coming across rather pathetically.

But Katerina had had enough, and true to her word, and their agreement, on 29th March, 2019, she walked out of their house and their relationship for the last time and drove into town to meet Luigi for a coffee. Afterwards they visited an art exhibition and then enjoyed a walk through the park before returning to Luigi’s apartment where they celebrated D-day by making love  to each other for the first time.

‘Happy Divorce Day’ said Luigi, stroking back Katerina’s hair and kissing her softly on her cheek.

Meanwhile, across town, at the same time as Katerina and Luigi were making love, Ken was finishing off a packet of Cheesy Wotsits for his tea, and with stained orange fingers, he watched low grade porn on his phone and wanked into a dirty sock as tears rolled down his lonely, British, gammon cheeks. As he sobbed and wanked simultaneously, he wondered what the fuck he had done with his life.

Ken Brexit was a fucking disaster of epic proportions, you really couldn’t make this shit up.

 

 

 

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Kid thinking …

I remember once, when I was around nine or ten years old, being told that dogs can only see in black and white. We were in the park, the ‘wreck’, or ‘welly’ as we called it, and we were playing football when someone (I forget who), made the pronouncement.

‘How do they know?’ I asked, feeling rather puzzled. And us kids, using kid thinking, concluded between us that they must have cut a dog open, climbed inside and looked through the dogs eyes.

Then we carried on playing football.

But that assertion troubled me, I wasn’t happy with that answer and I carried that with me for quite some time after. Firstly, cutting a dog open isn’t very nice. It’s definitely unkind. Secondly, was the dog dead first? If so, would you still be able to look through their dead eyes? Because if you could, perhaps it looked black and white because the dog was dead, like the power had been turned off. So you would have had to look through the dogs eyes whilst it was still alive, but how could you cut it open and keep it alive?

And what troubled me most of all was that you would be looking through human eyes that already see in colour. A dog doesn’t look through human eyes when it sees, it looks only through dog eyes. And it doesn’t have a human brain to process what it sees, it just has a dog brain. So even if you could cut a dog open, and somehow keep it alive whilst you climbed inside its head, you would then have to look inside and see what it sees without somehow using your human eyes or your human brain …

In other words you would have to be an unopened, alive dog to really know whether a dog sees in black and white or not, and us humans could never really know, and so I decided it was all bullshit.

Of course there wasn’t Google in 1975, but it turns out I was right after all, even if my reasoning was a little … unscientific:
It’s untrue that dogs can only see in black and white

Thank you for your smile …

Nothing disarms me quite like a genuine smile.

When someone smiles a truly genuine smile you see into their soul, just for a brief moment. And whatever came before, whatever games are played after, in that instant, you see the spirit, stripped of any pretence.

I’m careful to talk here of genuine smiles, smiles from the heart. Smiles that are spontaneous, unplanned, unrehearsed and unpracticed. These are smiles that can’t be learned, smiles that are truly inimitable fingerprints of their owner. I believe everyone is born with a genuine smile that can never be masked. One can of course practice fake smiles, camera smiles, business smiles, polite smiles, flirtatious smiles, political smiles … but one can never fake, or hide, the genuine smile.

Genuine smiles happen when you are caught off guard. They’re triggered by something that provokes a primeval response, deep within. They catch you unaware, like when you trip or fall and your arms stretch out in front to protect you. You have no control of this reaction, no time to think, it’s purely instinctive, and a genuine smile is exactly the same.

The grown-up name for a genuine smile is a Duchenne smile, a term coined in 1862 by a neurologist called Guillaume Duchenne, who identified that the muscles used in a spontaneous smile are not merely the ones around the mouth – but also the ones around the eyes.

More formally, a Duchenne smile involves contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle (which raises the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (which raises the cheeks and forms crow’s feet around the eyes).

duchenne-smile-secondary_275H_JR

Left: a nice man, right: a complete c***

Fortunately, we humans are quite good at spotting the difference, and we’re naturally attracted to Duchenne smiles because they’re unforced and genuine. I believe we are attracted to them because it signals a stronger virtue.

Two celebrities with particularly strong Duchenne smiles are Emma Willis and Robin Williams. When I see a Duchenne smile, I don’t need to think about it, or analyse it, I just react, usually by smiling myself. And I often wonder why I’m drawn to certain people, like Emma and Robin, and I’m sure its because they invoke a positive reaction in me, due in no small part to their generous Duchenne smiles:

And it isn’t entirely to do with beauty. Victoria Beckham has some very striking attributes, yet rarely displays her ‘Duchenne’, opting instead to hide behind a more formal, colder, practiced image – a fake smile with very little, if any, orbicularis oculi stimulation. This is sometimes coined the ‘Pan-Am’ smile, a familiar smile worn by many a tired air hostess. All very well intentioned perhaps, but … well … not for me.

Meh …

Last week I went to the cinema to watch The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society, and came away from it feeling wonderfully warm, contented and happy. A truly joyous film, delightfully British – both warm and funny in equal measure, with a superb cast.

‘But didn’t you find the plot a little weak’? A friend asked.

‘No’, I replied ‘but I think I’ve just seen the finest exponent of the Duchenne smile that I have ever seen in my entire life’.

Lily ‘Duchenne’ James

 

When we were young …

This amazing photograph, titled “Kids jumping onto mattresses” was taken by Tish Murtha in 1980, and rather beautifully encapsulates life growing up in urban Britain in the 70s/80s.

Youth Unemployment in Elswick

image by Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

Notwithstanding the kid in the foreground holding the ventriloquist’s dummy (wtf?), the rest of the scene could have been from any summer in my early youth growing up in  an industrial corner of Yorkshire. We did that kind of thing to entertain ourselves – we climbed trees, rummaged through quarries for pram wheels (with which we would make and then race trolleys), and we played in and around abandoned, or semi-built, houses and burned out cars.

02_Elswick-Kids-SuperMac-1978-840x560

Elswick Kids, image by Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

How times have changed. No longer would such a derelict house or rusty old car be left so blatantly abandoned and accessible like that. And no responsible, modern day parent would ever dream of letting their children loose, especially unsupervised, in such dangerous environments.

Through modern eyes, and with seemingly ever increasing levels of paranoia, we can see nothing but danger and neglect in these scenes, but with our 70s outlook we can see only fun, excitement, camaraderie and danger.

Back then, we climbed and fell out of trees, we played football on fields laden with broken glass strewn with (white) dog shit. And we jumped out of abandoned or derelict houses onto filthy, disgusting mattresses, before returning home, scruffy, scratched and grazed, starving hungry and totally and completely knackered. If it was Saturday we may have had a bath, otherwise our mums reluctantly washed our faces with a flannel, fed us a jam sandwich and sent us to bed. The next morning we would wake up, hurriedly get dressed and repeat it all over again, for six glorious weeks throughout the summer.

Should we return to those days? Of course not, that’s a bygone age and we have moved on. But looking back, none of us died, yet we did have immense fun and learned ever such a lot about the harsh realities and dangers of life, something I wonder if kids today in their sanitised, indoor, digitised cocoons, will ever get to experience?

 

Petitioning for a better life …

We all have a choice – we can choose the red pill or the blue pill.

When we choose the blue pill …blue pill

These dark, wintry days can get to us and if we’re unsuspecting they can affect our mood. Sadness typically requires very little effort, just passivity. Sit back and let all the bad things wash over you – the weather, the current political landscape, getting old. Focus on all that wasted time, on all those other, more successful people out there, and bingo, life feels overwhelmingly grim.

We can watch the news a certain way too – Brexit, this hapless government, Donald Trump, all the greed, violence, terrorism, food banks, homelessness, death, immigration – wherever you turn it’s bleak, it’s nasty, it’s dystopian. It’s a terrible time to be alive.

We look at ourselves critically. We’re getting older, fatter, we ache more, we sleep worse, we make noises when we bend down all of a sudden, we forget things, books take longer to read, ideas take longer to digest, food takes longer to digest, we increasingly need to wear glasses, we can’t run like we once did, we can’t fit into those trousers any more, our hair has gone thin and grey. Yuk.

And we build our barricades to suit. We choose our friends and colleagues, all our newsfeeds, all our social media timelines raining down on us, echo chambers playing back that which we already feared. It’s true, this is what we have become, a worried, complaining spectator on life. A gloomy, sombre onlooker passing comment, occasionally shaking our soppy fists, but always helpless, entirely hapless and seemingly clueless.

When we choose the red pill … red pill

Yes the days are short in January, it is dark and cold out there, but it needn’t stop us. We can dress for the occasion, both metaphorically and literally. This is England, it’s about as moderate here as anywhere on the planet. It’s sometimes a bit chilly, a tad breezy (nay, blustery even) and quite often damp, but that’s about it. We don’t generally suffer from tsunamis, hurricanes, droughts, flooding and bushfires. In fact there’s nothing in any of our weather stopping us gearing up and getting out there and enjoying the world. We grow accustomed to summer being good and winter being bad, but winter needn’t be enduring, it has just as much to offer us as summer. We can stop wishing the winter days away and instead enjoy them now. We can open your eyes instead of closing them, in the same way we can look forward to opening the curtains on a morning, not closing them on an evening. With the red pill we can approach things differently. A winter sky has far more to offer than a summer one if you just look with fresh eyes.

And we can choose instead to properly watch the news and instead of feeling overwhelmed and helpless, we can think of all the things we can change. We can think of the people who could really benefit from our help. We can start locally or we can start small, we can look around us at our neighbours and friends, even strangers. And we can soon realise we’re not the unfortunate homeless ones, we’re not the alcoholic in the park, we’re not unemployed, and despite what our bloated western bellies are telling us, we’re certainly not the hungry ones begging for food. The news can often be grim, but instead of letting it dictate our mood, instead of just sighing and rolling over or turning over, we can dictate the news, we can act and react. We can help make change.

And so what if we are getting old? That’s not news. Nor is it even a choice. It’s just a fact of life, of all our lives. I’m no longer 30 years old, so why strive to be 30? Surely its better to be the best 53 yr old I can be? Time, perhaps, to stop focussing so much on what I was, poring over what I have lost, and instead to focus more on what I have become – older yes, but also wiser, calmer, kinder? Perhaps focussing my energy on how I can grow spiritually, become better. A time maybe to seek out those who could really benefit from my advantages – family, friends and strangers alike. A time to stop taking, a time to give.

Although it often feels easy, we don’t have to complain, we can choose instead to campaign. To petition for a better life, not just for ourselves, but for those around us too. We don’t have to passively watch, we can, instead, actively participate.

Ultimately we are always free to choose the red pill over the blue.

Better lives don’t just arrive and happier lives aren’t searchable on Google. We have to make them happen, through our action and intent. There comes a time when we perhaps need to turn off the TV and the computer, a time to throw those curtains wide and open the front door, to start our campaigns for a better life, starting today, right now in fact, small steps, with a cold, damp, blustery, but beautiful wintry walk. All we need are our coats and sensible footwear …

The choices we make, every moment of every day, are always ours to make … the red pill or the blue pill?

morpheus-red-pill-blue-pill

 

 

Twenty Eighteen …

So here we stand at the start line of a brand new year, a time when we both reflect and look forward. We ask ourselves what went well last year, what made us unhappy, what made us smile, what made us sad?

We plan, we want less of that, but more of this. We all make our own lists, at least in our heads, even if we don’t always write them down. Human nature means we all want a better life, somehow – whether we want to turn ‘bad’ into ‘manageable’, ‘manageable’ into ‘good’, or ‘good’ into ‘very good’, we all want to see some form or progress along our own happiness scale.

And if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s the importance of planning wisely. I’ve learned not to be too ambitious, but most importantly, I’ve learned to stop chasing the wrong things.

I’m never going to write a novel, but I can always write. A marathon is a tough ask that’s fading quickly, but jogging needn’t be a lost hope. Hiking Kilimanjaro takes a lot of time, money and planning – all in short supply – but walking every day takes very little whatosever.

Quitting drink by throwing myself into Dry January hasn’t worked in the past and it’s unlikely to work now. Veganuary is laudable, but is it realistic? Mightn’t it be better instead to just cut down on midweek drinking? To introduce meat-free days into the weekly calendar?

Lofty, worthy, ambitious goals are exciting, but they’re also disheartening when you inevitably fail to climb their long ladders. And that’s why my resolution this year is not to make any grand claims, but rather to focus simply on what’s next. Instead of trying to win the war right now, I’ll just focus on the next battle.

2018 will be about taking small steps, but well intentioned ones. In 2018 I aim to chip away at ambition, but not attack it. Health, financial security, relationships, friendships and general happiness are still as important as ever, but they’re not giants to be slayed. These aims and aspirations should be free to roam unbounded. These dreams, hopes and aspirations are organic, wandering free, sniffing and scratching the earth, interacting, learning, maybe even evolving themselves. There’s nothing wrong with next year’s goals being different to this year’s, so long as we can adapt, so long as we are clear where we are heading.

I don’t believe happiness can ever be conquered. Happiness, contentment, health, financial security – these mighty beasts will never be tamed, they’re simply beacons that should light our way.

All we need is the foresight to see them. And then all we need to do is take small steps.

Happy new year.

Stepping onto the pitch …

There’s total abstinence on one extreme of the axis, hedonistic indulgence on the other, and somewhere in between lies moderation. But exactly where moderation is on that axis is debatable, and that’s always been my problem with it.

Whereas abstinence is ‘0’, and indulgence is ‘1’, moderation is 0.x where ‘x’ is something that can never be defined. There’s no slippery slope with ‘0’ and ‘1’ extremism, no grey area, no line in the sand to keep to one side of, making decision-making very simple.

I stop drinking booze, ergo, I simply don’t drink alcohol. I quit eating meat and I open a vegetarian cookbook. But if I cut down, I still ‘do’, and I’m standing in no-mans land betwixt and between the end zones of abstinence and indulgence. To extremists, moderating your booze means you can still have a drink any-time. If you cut down your dairy intake you can still eat some cheese. Whatever the underlying reasons, be they ethical, moral, health related or financial, to the extremist every time you ‘do’, you fall short of that ‘reason’. You can also no longer measure success or failure in the middle, because in this analogue no-mans land everything is still possible and both failure and success continue to compete for attention, whereas in the digital end-zones of abstinence and excess everything is crystal clear, you either do or you don’t.

This is why I have always tended to operate in the end-zones.  If I choose to run I want to become a total runner. I buy books on running, I download running apps, I listen to running podcasts, I research running shoes to PhD level, I dream about running, I blog about running, I seek out running people, I bore other people with my running and I create pro-running echo chambers on social media. I run every day and I become a true running bore living wholly within the indulgent ‘1’ end-zone – a running legend in my own head and my own lifetime. And then I get injured and I can no longer run, but instead of cutting back I stop running altogether – apps are deleted, podcasts are unsubscribed, running gurus are unfollowed on Twitter – and I gather up my belongings and up sticks to decamp in the opposite ‘0’ running end-zone of total abstinence where I live as a complete non-runner, eschewing all running related facets in my life, mixing with like-minded sedentarists.

And that’s the problem with extremism. End-zone living might be very clear and very simple, but it does come at a cost. Most importantly, it’s extremely difficult to comply with. To never do anything ever again takes remarkable courage and commitment. But worst of all, when you fail, when your toe silently and subtly edges over the end-zone white line it’s over, gone, completely and forever.  You can’t ever be a little bit pregnant in the same way you can never be a vegetarian who eats the occasional chicken nugget, or a teetotaller who enjoys a sherry at Christmas. Extremism is a lifestyle not to be taken lightly, and it’s utterly exhausting.

Extremists eschew moderates, seeing them as weak and ill-disciplined, rudderless, with no rules or signposts for living. Extremists stand in both end zones, arms folded, tutting and sighing at the fickle-natured moderates who smile and giggle their way through life like it’s some kind of light-hearted and flippant game.

Take nutrition as an example. Not wishing to generalise too much but it’s fair to say that, generally speaking, Americans are extremists where the French are moderates. American food is covered in labels telling us they’re ‘sodium-free’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘zero-calorie’, ‘cholesterol lowering’ and so on. French food on the other hand, if it is labelled or packaged at all, is marked ‘cheese’, ‘beef’,  or ‘snail’.

And you don’t need me to tell you who are the healthiest and happiest nation. That’s right, it’s the one that sits out in the middle drinking wine, smoking Gitanes, eating fatty meat and indulging in sugary desserts. Meanwhile the extremists are drinking litre buckets of zero cal sodas through plastic straws and eating foods refined within an inch of their lives (but stripped of all devilish ingredients such as salt and sugar).

And the act of eating itself – a social construct to be enjoyed and shared with moderates, becomes a sin for extremists who hide behind their desk or the wheel of their car (whilst parked up in the end-zone). One is a meal that is also a social occasion lasting a couple of hours, not something sinful you endure for ten guilty minutes in isolation behind closed doors.

And the moderate who enjoyed steak and chips with red wine for lunch, may just have a small cheese dish for supper. He rarely if ever goes off the rails. He drinks most days but never more than a couple of glasses, although it’s perfectly fine to indulge too every now and then. After all life is for living. Everything goes when you’re in the moderate centre, nothing is banned or out of reach, and it is precisely for that reason that things are rarely abused out there in the middle.

The extremists future is by definition dystopian, a field of landmines to be delicately negotiated, whereas the true moderate’s presence is utopian, a busy road to be enjoyed and shared with others. Extremists fear the future, whereas moderates enjoy the present.

I’ve been a life long extremist but it’s time for me to move out of the end-zone and onto the pitch. I’m going to try and mingle, shake hands with some moderates and see what happens.

And I really, really hope I don’t end up in jail, hospital or rehab.

Screen Shot 2017-11-25 at 17.07.03

 

 

 

The best playlist of my life … and maybe yours too?

I’ve always enjoyed compiling music. In the old days it was recording from vinyl onto cassette tapes, or recording songs from the radio where you had to try and stop the recording just after the song ended, but before Tony Blackburn or Simon Bates spoke and spoiled everything.

I used to compile tapes for friends (for friends read girls). They took ages to compile, each track carefully chosen, sometimes with accompanying lyrics handwritten out of sheer love and desire.  I would sometimes have to post the tapes in the mail in the hope she would receive, listen and come running.

It never really worked but it was immense fun. These days it’s much easier with Spotify, Apple Music or any other streaming service where 30-million tracks are just a click away, in high fidelity, with no DJ interruptions. And so it is that old fashioned, analogue compilations have now given way to digital playlists.

I tend to build playlists these days principally for me rather than for girls, but it’s still a great way to gather together certain genres, or composers, or songs from a particular decade, songs for dinner parties, songs for house parties, songs for flying, songs to run along to, songs to cook with, songs to sing along to.

The options are endless, but my most recent playlist has undoubtedly been the most fun to compile, and I wanted share this with you because it’s something you might want to try.  Mine’s called ‘Andy’s life playlist’, but you might want to give yours a different name.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You must add a song to the playlist if, and only if, it was a significant thing for you, at some stage of your life. It might be something you fell in love with, obsessed over, or just something that is so significantly memorable that it transports you back to a very specific place/time/age. Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun was the first 45/single I ever bought from Casa Disco. I was 9yrs old and I fell in love with music. I was on the way to becoming me.  So that’s in.
  2. It MIGHT be a song you didn’t particularly like, but which is so strongly associated with a specific life event that it has to go in. When our first child was born, I remember returning to the car bleary eyed and emotionally punch drunk, turning on the radio when ‘Sleeping Satellites’ by Tasmin Archer came on the radio.  That song will forever be associated with my wife and our son, and whenever I hear it I am immediately transported back to Milton Keynes Hospital Car Park in the autumn of 1992. So that’s in too.
  3. You MUST NOT exclude a song because you now find it cheesy, facile, simplistic or juvenile. This is just your 2017 self filtering and tainting your thinking. You loved that song back then when (and because) you were pure, you were untainted by other opinions, politics, self awareness and snobbiness. You just reacted biologically to the words, the beat, the harmonies, the chord changes. It affected the real you, it was you. I remember singing with a hairbrush into my bedroom mirror miming and dancing to ‘I Can Do It’ by The Rubettes. I was Alan Williams, I even had similar hair. So that has to be in, whether I like it or not.
  4. You CANNOT add a song that you like now, but didn’t like at the time, just to try and make yourself look cool. Stop playing these games. Just because you should have liked The Jam doesn’t mean ‘Going Underground’ should be on the playlist.
  5. Certain songs evoke memories of life events like nothing else can, and that’s what you’re trying to capture here. On the first anniversary of my dad’s untimely death, I remember I felt miserable all day. I was working in London and can recall coming home on the train that evening. It was a hot summer’s evening as I stared out of the window feeling bluesy when ‘Warning Signs’ started to play through my headphones. And when Chris Martin said “... and the truth is, I miss you, yeah the truth is, I miss you … so“, I started to cry, and I cried all the way to my car. But I felt happy, I felt connected to Dad somehow. You could be forgiven for not hearing that ‘so’ at the end of that line, but I don’t, and I never will. I don’t understand how all this stuff works but it’s very powerful, and that song evokes memories of my Dad and specifically his loss, like nothing else ever can. I often cry when I hear it now, and whilst Chris probably wrote it about Gwyneth, or some other lover, to me it’s it’s about Dad. It’s between me and him. That’s the kind of stuff that has to go in.
  6. And it doesn’t have to just be old stuff, you CAN add new songs to the playlist. If a song affects you in 2017, it’s just as much a part of your life playlist as the song that affected you in 1973. You might discover a song from ’73 that you hear for the first time in 2017, so that’s fine to go in too, but you CANNOT add a ’73 song you didn’t ever like or have no connection to, but you now wish you had (see point 4 above) – that’s one for your fake public playlist.

Just remember, this playlist is designed to be a musical portfolio for your life, not for anyone else’s. Build it for you. You won’t be able to do it in one go, just keep it running in the background and add to it whenever and wherever you remember a song. There’s no limit, it can be as short or as long as you like.

Also, please note that your playlist must never be shared. Once you know you might share you will start to filter, and it will no longer be your pure playlist, but rather a modified playlist you’d like others to think was yours. This is very important.  I have some right shit on mine, stuff I’ll never admit to in public, but it’s part of me, no one will ever know, it’s my little secret, it’s my life playlist.

And finally, but just as importantly, you must edit the title and append a number to each song title, e.g, ‘Seasons in the sun’ becomes ‘9_Seasons In the Sun’, ‘Hold me now’ becomes ’18_Hold me now’, ‘Linger’ becomes ’28_Linger”, and so on. This number is the age you were (or as close as you can approximate) when you connected with the song.

And this is the special bit. When you now play your playlist where the songs are ordered alphabetically, you now get to listen to the soundtrack of your life.

Belinda

 

Flawed logic and sub-optimal living

In my latest self help article, I look at the important role of logic in solving everyday problems, and examine, through mathematical reasoning, how flawed logic can lead to sub-optimal living.

I learned this the hard way, failure is the best way to learn, so allow me to share my mistakes with you, so you don’t fall into the same ‘unhappiness trap’ as I.

Let’s take the everyday dilemma of choosing an orange from a bowl of oranges to illustrate the point.

This is how my logic navigated me through life (before I achieved enlightenment):

Let’s say I have four oranges in my fruit bowl, three of which still look fresh, young, zesty and healthy, but one orange is on the turn, with blemished skin, dark patches and bruises forming. And let’s say I fancy an orange. Which one do you think I eat? I don’t choose at random, I use a form of logic that goes like this – eat the one on the turn because tomorrow it will have gone over and will be ruined, save the healthy ones, they still have a shelf-life.  And so I eat the fourth orange, the one on the turn. I find the experience mediocre at best. Satisfaction 50%

The following day I have three oranges in my fruit bowl, two of which still look fresh, young, zesty and healthy, and one that’s now on the turn, with blemished skin, dark patches and bruises forming … I eat the one on the turn. Satisfaction 50%. The following day I have two oranges, one on the turn, one healthy … Satisfaction 50%. On day four the final orange is looking very shabby, it’s on the turn, logic dictates it won’t last, I’m tired of oranges but I eat it. Satisfaction 30%.

Let’s assume the average orange delivers 10 units of enjoyment, my total enjoyment from my four oranges is 50% x 10 x 3 + 30% x 10 = 18.

This is how an enlightened person applies thinking in his life:

The smart person fancies an orange and discovers he has four in his fruit bowl, three of which are healthy and one that is on the turn. He bins the shitty one and eats the ever-so slightly inferior orange from the remaining three (note that it is still still very healthy and far from the turn). Mmm, it’s delicious, he scores a dizzying 90% satisfaction, harvesting nine enjoyment points in the process.

On day two, he only has two oranges left, but they’re still lush oranges, bursting with life and zingy fruitiness. He chooses the slightly weaker one of the two but it’s still a cracking orange. He scores 70% satisfaction, collecting seven enjoyment points.  On day three, he only has one orange left, the leader of the pack, the SAS of the orange world, the never-say-die alpha male, the king of the hill. He eats it, he derives 70% satisfaction and collects a further seven enjoyment points.

On day four he has no oranges left, but he doesn’t give a shit, he’s sick of oranges anyway and he doesn’t want to turn into a bloody orange!

Total enjoyment points = 9+7+7 = 23

If it were only oranges that would be OK, but sadly this is mirrored all too often through other facets of my life (and maybe yours too), for I also apply similar ‘orange’ logic to other daily challenges – like selecting underpants for example:

I have 10 pairs of underpants in my pants drawer. Three pairs are my absolute faves – comfortable, roomy yet secure, airy, stylish (in case of road traffic accident) – and seven pairs are getting old and a little tired. They’re also slightly tight fitting (I think they must have shrunk in the wash). They look a bit like old man’s pants too, somewhat dated and embarrassing if I’m brutally honest with myself.

So which pair do I choose? I choose one of the seven shitty pairs obviously, my logic dictating it’s best to save the good ones for another day. Satisfaction 20%. On day two, I repeat the aforementioned logic, selecting another pair of ill fitting, moribund Y-fronts, satisfaction 20%. This repeats the entire week, at which point I do some washing so at the beginning of week two I have 10 fresh pairs of pants, three nice pairs and seven shitty pairs.  Week two, by the same logic, I wear shitty pairs all week.

Let’s say the average pair of underpants delivers 10 units of enjoyment, my weekly enjoyment haul from my pants is a measly 2 x 7 = 14*, whereas the superior logician reaps (3 x 10) + (4 x 2) = 38*.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 09.52.10

Conclusion – live life every day, like it’s your last. Wear nice pants and eat fresh oranges.

 

 

* assumes only 1 weekly wash of smalls

 

Shitty food and corporate skullduggery

Over recent years I’ve read more than my fair share of diet/nutrition books and been convinced (or misled, more on this later) into believing many different fads and diets.

A couple of decades ago I felt the secret lay in supplements, or optimum nutrition as Patrick Holford called it. In many ways it was a precursor to low carb, so credit to Patrick for getting behind that early bandwagon I suppose, but it also seemed to rely on you having to buy lots of supplements – vitamins, minerals, powders, shakes – all conveniently available from Patrick’s online store.

I then looked into Atkins. I lost weight, all the while thinking it absolutely ridiculous that it could be in any way good to consume so much meat and so little fruit and veg. Atkins has now rebranded as a low carb diet. It also has a shop too where you can but shitty low carb, processed foods and snacks at sky high prices.

I then investigated the The Paleo Diet. It seemed to make a lot of sense – to eat natural food, like our early ancestors did, because after all that’s how we’ve been designed, optimised by evolution over thousands of years. This made a lot of sense – eat lean meat, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. But what about all that meat … ?

And so it went on, through LCHF diets and on all the way through dalliances with pescetarianism, fruitarianism, to vegetarianism, veganism, and then on to whole food, plant based nutrition.

I’m slowly forming my own conclusions and adopting an eating pattern that seems to work for me on several levels, but I am painfully aware other people don’t need my opinions ramming down their throats. I’m aware food choices are deeply personal and there is no ‘one size fits all’. People shouldn’t preach, they should just inform, educate and debate and let individuals make their own choices.

I’m also of the belief that the biggest and most important debate shouldn’t be between the vegan, the vegetarian, the pescatarian, the paleo and the fruitarian. The real issue we need to debate, the real enemy we need to face, is real (natural) food vs. processed food.

Putting ethical/moral issues to one side for a moment, there’s little evidence that moderate amounts of well cared for, outdoor farmed meat does you any harm, and meat can in fact provide you with many of the vital macronutrients we need to fuel our bodies. Heavily processed meat on the other hand appears to be problematic, as does intensively farmed meat.

There is no evidence to suggest vegetables are bad for you, and in fact they undoubtedly provide you with many of the vital macronutrients we need to fuel our bodies. But if you deep freeze a carrot, transport it over a thousand miles, inject it with chemicals to enhance shelf life, add sugar for ‘extra taste’ because you depleted all the natural flavours, and then mix it sparingly into TV dinners, you can get a much greater bang for your corporate carrot buck. And instead of getting a cheap, wholesome, nutritious and natural vegetable, the consumer gets a rather bland, sugary, nutritionally bereft orangey, floppy, lifeless sticky thing floating in a gloopy ‘soup’ which can be sold at a great profit.

There is no evidence that whole fruits are bad for you, and in fact they provide us with many of the vital macronutrients we need to fuel our bodies. But if you extract just a very small amount of the juice, add carbonated water, even more sugar AND aspartame, add some preservatives to improve shelf-life, add stabiliser and phenylanaline, you get a can of fizzy drink with 23g of sugar, more than 25% of the UK daily allowance for a female adult.

Hopefully you get the point – natural foods are generally good, processed foods are generally shit and it is these sugary drinks, sugary snacks, sugary breakfast cereals, shitty white breads, sugary desserts, salty TV dinners, chemically infused ready meals, mechanically recovered and reconstructed chicken nuggets which are the real menace and which are killing us quickly.

The evidence is out there waddling down our high streets and camped on our sofas and GP waiting rooms for all to see. We are fatter than ever before, we have more diabetes sufferers than ever before, more cardiovascular disease than ever before, more incidences of cancer than ever before. So much for progress.

I’m not saying this is all down to diet – I’m sure environmental and hereditary factors play a role here too – but the food we put inside our bodies undoubtedly plays a very significant and very dominant part in the current health crisis.

I think the message is finally getting out there, but only if you look hard enough, and even then the scientific messaging and evidence is still confused. Scholars may now know the problems are more to do with sugars rather than fats, they may know the chemicals we add to prolong shelf life can be carcinogenic, they may also know that natural food is better than processed food, but if you don’t have the time or the inclination to research this stuff yourself, you could be forgiven for thinking all is well is the world of modern food.

And that’s because the messages being transmitted from our supermarket aisles are intentionally muddled and often very biased for sinister reasons, specifically aimed at keeping the muggles in the dark.

Food industry funding of nutritional science is plain wrong. Coca cola paying scientists to  shift the blame away from diet and onto exercise is just ethically corrupt. This is deliberate obfuscation of the facts solely designed to confuse and mislead. This is corporate marketing at its worst.

I know we have to be practical here. We have a free market where people and corporations should be allowed to create and innovate however they see fit. And at the end of the day it’s down to us, the consumers, to use our intelligence and common sense, but let’s also be fair. There is such a thing as corporate social responsibility.

The debate of meat vs fish vs fruit vs plants should remain a secondary issue until we once and for all gain a fair and transparent view on the damage we are really doing with our modern, processed, corporate fronted, so-called dietary advice.

Food politics

food politics

You won’t ever stop some folk from eating what they want, and of course that’s their prerogative, but let’s at least lay the facts out for all to see, once and for all, so that we can all participate on a level playing field.